iPad toting tortoises draws ire from animal activists

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Don't worry, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. What you're looking at above is a tortoise walking around with an iPad on its shell. Actually, two iPads to be exact.

As part of an upcoming exhibit at the Aspen Art Museum, three African tortoises were transported to Colorado where they currently live in a habitat "that promotes and safeguards sustained health and comfort." Note that the tortoises themselves were originally rescued from a breeder who kept them in a confined space and generally unsafe living conditions.

Hardly an amateur affair, the entire project, from the transportation to the design of the habitat, was conducted with guidance from a local veterinarian and the "internationally acclaimed Turtle Conservancy."

As for the purpose of the iPads?

Well, the exhibit, titled Moving Ghost Town, is described thusly:

Drawing upon Eastern philosophy and contemporary social issues as a conceptual basis, Cai Guo-Qiang's work creates a direct exchange between viewers and the larger universe around them cultivating a site-specific approach to culture and history. For Moving Ghost Town, Guo-Qiang has created an environment where three African Sulcata tortoises roam freely on a section of natural turf similar to local grasslands. With iPads mounted to their backs, the tortoises feature video footage of three local ghost towns, which were filmed by the creatures themselves. Forgotten stories of the once prosperous ghost towns are retold from the tortoises' perspective.

Well, that's contemporary "art" for you.

While I can't really say I understand the purpose of the iPads (it's not like the footage will be riveting in the slightest), one man's tortoise wearing an iPad as a backpack is apparently another man's art exhibit.

With respect to the iPads and the overall health of the tortoises, the Aspen Art Museum's Facebook page explains that there's nothing to worry about.

Each of the three tortoises carries an iPad in the installation, showcasing footage of their experience in Colorado. The iPad adds negligible weight for the tortoise to support: their thick, sturdy legs accommodate their own weight and, during mating, upwards of 150 extra pounds. The use of the iPad and its mounting method is a reduced version of the method employed by scientists and researchers who study the animals in the wild. The silicone/epoxy material is noninvasive and removes easily and cleanly without damaging the tortoise's shell. It is common practice to use this particular adhesive to attach research-tracking devices in the wild. It is the most benign method to track animals in the wild. In this instance, it is used to temporarily attach the bolts that hold the mounting system. The mounting system is designed purposely to keep the iPads at a distance from their shell and does not impede their growth.

Overall, this seems like nothing more than a harmless and arguably heartwarming, if not somewhat bizarre, iPad-meets-tortoise story, right? I mean, talk about cliche!

But as luck would have it, animal activists are protesting the exhibit, arguing that the iPads affixed upon the tortoise shells amount to animal abuse and exploitation.

The Verge directs us to a Change.org petition that, at the time of this writing, has already amassed 5,634 signatures.

The Tortoises that you have in your new display in the new Aspen Art Museum have had iPads attached to their shells and must endure the weight of 2 iPads on their back as they walk around showing slides of old Aspen in the name of art. Since when is animal abuse art? We must all rise and stop this now!! There is no excuse for this!

...

And does the fact that a female tortoise can endure the weight of a mate for a few hours once a year somehow justify and prepare them for the unbalancing effect of 2 iPads attached to their backs for several months?

The petition further explains that the exhibit is exploitive insofar as the iPads serve no underlying scientific purpose, as opposed to typical tracking conducted in the wild.

For an opposing viewpoint, check out the Turtle Conservancy's website, which champions the exhibit as educational. Note, though, that a representative for the Turtle Conservancy explained that they "did not approve or endorse" the exhibit but rather provided advice on how to properly care for the tortoises and construct an appropriate habitat.

I'm no expert, but to me this doesn't seem like abuse or art. At the very least, one has to hope that the exhibit is at least using lightweight iPad Airs!

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